A survey of 321 scientists found 15 per cent feared for their life after talking to the media or commenting on social media about the pandemic. More than one in five received threats of physical or sexual violence, some had their home address revealed online and six were physically attacked.
It prompted calls for the Government to take a no-tolerance approach to those who abuse scientists, amid concern that US-style intimidation from anti-vaxxers is becoming “embedded” in the UK.
The study, by the journal Nature, comes after the US President’s medical adviser Anthony Fauci was given security guards after receiving death threats and after Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty was assaulted in St James’s Park.
Dr Andrew Hill, a pharmacologist at Liverpool university, told Nature he was besieged with images of hanged people and coffins and told that he and his children would “burn in hell”.
Dr Michael Head, of Southampton university, said he had received “plenty of abuse” throughout the pandemic.
Professor Susan Michie, of UCL, said: “The online abuse occurs most intensively after media engagements and especially after those that address restrictions to social mixing, the wearing of face-masks or vaccination.”
It came as a senior Tory finally apologised for mistakes made by the Government at the start of the pandemic, including a delay to entering lockdown. Yesterday Cabinet minister Stephen Barclay refused to apologise on at least 11 occasions.
But Tory chairman Oliver Dowden today said ministers and scientists would “do some things differently with hindsight”. Mr Dowden told Sky News: “Of course I’m sorry, as the Prime Minister is sorry.”